Aziz Ansari: interview
One of the US's biggest stand-ups - and 'Flight of the Conchords' fruit racist - tells Time Out why he's afraid of becoming fat.
In recent years there has been a noticeable splurge of acclaimed US stand-ups working their slick, skilfully crafted comedy magic on audiences here in the UK.
Ricky Gervais-approved misanthrope Louis CK set the bar high with nigh-on perfect displays of intelligent, grown-up material at the Soho and Bloomsbury theatres. Uncompromising comedian/social commentator Doug Stanhope will make the leap to playing the Hammersmith Apollo this April after building a loyal following at the Leicester Square Theatre. Even the big man himself, Jerry Seinfeld, is following in Chris Rock's arena-filling footsteps to play a one-off gig at the O2 this summer.
The latest name joining this ever-growing list is South Carolina-born actor-comedian Aziz Ansari, who makes his UK debut next week. Although most famous to us Brits for his cameo roles as Sinjay the racist fruit vendor in 'Flight of the Conchords' and Randy (his own character creation) in Judd Apatow's comedy-drama 'Funny People', Ansari's popularity has rocketed in the States thanks to lead roles in NBC's mockumentary-style sitcom 'Parks and Recreation' and his cult MTV sketch series 'Human Giant'. Add to that relentless touring and a constant stream of writing work, and it's proved difficult to find a space in his schedule to squeeze in a few London shows.
But as I discovered, it isn't just travelling the world that he finds enjoyable about touring. There's another tasty incentive whetting his appetite…
There's a sexy theme going through your show names: 'The Dangerously Delicious Tour', 'Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening'. How do you choose your titles?
'Those titles are actually created with little regard to the content of the material. For “Intimate Moments…”, I had the idea of making an album cover in the vein of a '70s soul or R&B record. That title felt appropriate. I love travelling and eating delicious food, but I'm in constant fear of becoming a fat Indian man as I grow older, so that's why I called my new show “The Dangerously Delicious Tour”.'
You focus on your cousin Harris a great deal in your stand-up. What makes him so entertaining?
'Harris is simply the weirdest human being I've ever met. It's very hard to convey what makes him so unique. One thing I find interesting is how obsessed he is with eating the most disgusting, fatty foods imaginable: Red Lobster, Hot Pockets, Cinnabons…'
Has Harris's life changed in any way as a result of his newfound fame?
'I'm not sure if his life has changed. I'd like to imagine he's getting laid non-stop. But I don't know if that's the case given that he rarely removes his Xbox Live headset. That's generally not a look the girls seem to go for.'
In previous interviews you've mentioned that you're “not really into that ethnic-humour stuff”. Do you feel it's important to keep your comedy universal?
'In terms of ethnic humour, I just feel like it's ground that's been well trodden already and I have no desire to do it. It's not really about keeping it universal, though that is important to me. I love it when I see older people at my shows - people in their sixties - because I watch them for the whole show to make sure all my bits of material work for that audience as well. I don't want to be funny to just a certain demographic. Although it would be awesome if for my next tour all the jokes only worked if you were a fat Asian man in your fifties.'
Your character Randy is a spoof of lazy stand-ups - egotistical sex jokes, hack catchphrases etc. Are you ever worried that the irony will be lost on audiences?
'No, the overwhelming majority of people I encounter understand that the character is a parody.'
Fair enough. After his appearance in 'Funny People' you're now developing a movie about Randy for Judd Apatow. What other projects are you working on for him?
'We sold three ideas to Judd, one of which is the Randy project. The idea we're currently working on is about two disgraced astronauts who have to go back to the moon to clear their names. I'm really excited about it.'
How well do you think your material will translate to a British audience, and what are you doing to prepare?
'I hope it translates well, otherwise I'm going to have a really bad week. It seems like people that are coming are already familiar with my existing work, and that's a pretty good indication of the style of comedy people can expect at these shows. As far as preparation goes, I've been carefully looking into which restaurants I want to eat at in London. I can confidently say that regardless of how the shows go, I'm going to eat some very delicious food while I'm in town.'
Aziz Ansari's 'Dangerously Delicious Tour' is at the Soho Theatre, Feb 24-28.